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"It's all part of my way of giving, and I am giving it all to you"
|Main Category:||Rhythm & Blues|
|Also applicable:||Pop Rock, Psychedelia|
|Starting Period:||The Early Years|
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Not even the Pretty Things were so consistently "second to everything" as the Small Faces managed to be. After all, Ogden's Nut Gone Flake is no S.F. Sorrow when it comes to breaking down rules and pushing forward these goddamn boundaries. It is, indeed, amazing how the heck these guys came not to be forgotten after all these years. Well, they are forgotten - by the public at large, that is, and I'm not sure if even mentioning 'Itchycoo Park', the band's biggest hit single, to the casual listener will be of much help. But their legacy is still very much alive, and for a person consciously turning back to the Sixties it is virtually impossible to overlook the Small Faces. Hey, maybe it's just because they wrote great songs? Yeah, must be it.Originally, the Small Faces were the number two Mod band. (If you don't know who was number one, go back to jail, don't collect $200). They called themselves after Mod slang; wore Mod clothes; and sang the kind of American R'n'B that was preferrable in Mod circles. Their leader, Steve Marriott, was lucky to be endowed with a much more powerful singing voice than that of Roger Daltrey (that is, before Roger embedded an organic amplifier under his larynx some time around 1969, but by then, the competition was over anyway); this and his being capable to extract large amounts of rebellious feedback out of his guitar certainly helped the band get around without being obliterated by their betters. Some time around mid-1966, again, coming off the heels of the Stones and the Who, Marriott and second important person, bassist Ronnie Lane, also emerged as capable songwriters - writing enjoyable and professional Britpop with occasional hints at psychedelia. They quickly proved that they did have something to say, although they lacked the spark to say it with more flair and innovation than their superiors. But, on the positive side, their small legacy is amazingly consistent: by not getting any wild unpredictable ideas running through their tripped-out heads, they'd evaded falling into the "let's try anything, regardless of whether it works" mentality. Even at the height of the Summer of Love - and, unlike the Kinks, the Small Faces weren't above pandering towards flower power and drug mentality - their work was always strongly rooted in their R'n'B sources and never betrayed musicality and melody for all that FAR OUT, MAN stuff. With popular music forms getting more and more complex with each new weekend, the Small Faces had little choice but to get conceptual along with everyone else; the result was Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, an album that takes some getting used to but definitely a personality-endowed one. With a bit of Cockney-peppered absurdism, occasional psychedelic overtones, a loose "storyline" falling apart at every seam, and the usual fine batch of Britpop melodies, it is, in some ways, the urban equivalent of the Kinks' rural panorama of Village Green Preservation Society, although nowhere near as defiant in its blatant "conservatism". It's the only Small Faces that, in my opinion, occasionally goes overboard, but then, so did almost every conceptual album of the time, and this one managed to actually stand the test of time as the proud little brother of VGPS, The Who Sell Out, and S.F. Sorrow. The Small Faces' R'n'B-drenched essence actually becomes the most evident when you consider what kind of things these guys have gone on to later - after Marriott abruptly quit the band in late 1968, he proceeded to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, while his former buddies teamed up with Ron Wood and Rod Stewart to go on as "The Faces". Both bands inequivocally dropped the artsiness, conceptualism, and psychedelic overtones, and became two of the finest representatives of 70s' British blues-rock and barroom-rock. Humble Pie, of course, lost their "coolness" soon after Frampton's rise to glammy 70s' superstar position; the Faces somehow managed to stay hip with the critical public at large despite Rod Stewart's rise to something even worse - maybe because the two Ronnies, Lane and Wood, helped prop up that band's reputation against all odds. The grim fate of Humble Pie is somewhat saddening because it pretty much shortcircuited the career and reputation of Marriott. And Steve really was one of the Sixties' best frontmen. It's not just that he combined the talents of a serious guitar player with a major vocal gift, something rarely met in rock music until John Fogerty came along. It's that his vocal gift was so multi-sided. He could brawl and yell raunchier and louder than Eric Burdon, taking R'n'B for what it is: soulful ecstasy rather than a polished, meticulous, technique-based style of singing (which even gives the band's early "kiddie R'n'B" type of material, like 'Sha La La La Lee', an edge you can never witness on, say, a Manfred Mann record). He could be cheerful in a bubblegummy kind of way without being obnoxious; sweet and hypnotic in a psychedelic kind of way without being sugary and campy; and whenever there was need for subtlety, he could creep under your skin in his own unique manner. The rest of the band's members weren't exactly good-for-nothing's, either. Bassist and chief songwriter Ronnie Lane was the "black sheep" of the band and didn't really step out of the shadows much, not before the Small Faces actually came to an end and his own solo career with the supporting band Slim Chance took off, but that doesn't make the actual songs any worse. Keyboardist and organist Ian McLagan (who'd replaced Jimmy Winston, later of Winston's Fumbs, soon after the band got its first record deal) is, of course, known for occasional collaboration with the Rolling Stones and about a million other acts. And drummer Kenny Jones later replaced a deceased Keith Moon in the Who, which was sorta natural, given the long-time associations between the Who and the Small Faces, but didn't help the band out too much, I'm afraid. When it comes to the Small Faces' discography, the usual Anglo-American mess factor steps in, of course, exacerbated by the Small Faces' management problems (also quite typical of the time - hey, name me one important rock band of the time that wasn't thrown over at least once). For instance, they had two quite distinct self-titled records out: the actual debut record, still chockful of recycled R'n'B covers, good, but not essential, and the debut on Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label, the one that's really great and essential. Don't confuse the two (I once did, and the scars are still healing). Of course, in the States, Small Faces II were retitled... and remixed... and rearranged... and it was a different record altogether. In this particular case I am reviewing the band's original British catalog - that's what I am having and that's what you're gonna have to take from me. Mind you, though, that this excludes some of the band's most notorious singles, such as 'Itchycoo Park' and 'Here Come The Nice' (the one that provided Keith Emerson with the name of his first band, among other things); in order to locate and enjoy them, you'll have to either get the American issue of the 1967 Immediate album or just get yourself one of these rotten compilations. Well, that's the Sixties' pop scene for you, I guess. Lineup (once again, to recapitulate): Steve Marriott - vocals, guitar; Ronnie Lane - bass, vocals; Ian McLagan (keyboards); Kenny Jones (drums).
Listenability: 4/5. Clever
hooks, nice gimmicks, what's not to like?
Resonance: 2/5. Well, they're not about too much feeling. Marriott don't move me much.
Originality: 0/5. But they WERE great at hanging on to all those coattails.
Adequacy: 3/5. Even Steve's biggest fans might admit he occasionally overdoes "it", whatever "it" might be.
Diversity: 3/5. Yeah, well... R'n'B, Britpop, psychedelia, the usual Sixties routine. Pretty good.
Overall: 2.4 = D on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1966
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10
Kind of an odd mix.. half of the songs ahead of their time, the other half way past it.Best song: YOU NEED LOVING
Track listing: 1) Shake; 2) Come On Children; 3) You Better Believe It; 4) It's Too Late; 5) One Night Stand; 6) What'Cha Gonna Do About It; 7) Sorry She's Mine; 8) Own Up Time; 9) You Need Loving; 10) Don't Stop What You Are Doing; 11) E Too D; 12) Sha La La La Lee; [BONUS TRACKS:] 1) Shake; 2) Come On Children; 3) What'Cha Gonna Do About It; 4) Own Up Time; 5) E Too D.
The Small Faces had already been sticking around for quite some time, so it seems, when they finally got a chance to record - yet even so, they went ahead and (unintentionally) proved that they do, in fact, represent the authentic First Generation of British rockers by putting out a debut album that refused to follow the rules of 1966. Rule number one, of course, being that if you're really worth something you self-pen all the material. For Steve Marriott and Co., that rule does not exist; almost as if they were still merrily whistling along the innocent streets of the London of 1963, they cram the record with covers, and when they do put their names in parentheses, there's still hardly any guarantee that they actually had something to do with the song-in-question's creation.Actually, the correct date is 1965 rather than 1963, because if there is any one particular album that Small Faces emulates, it's The Who's My Generation. Loud, punkish, full of feedback and youthful snarling. Nothing surprising about that, either, as the Small Faces were the Who's main rivals throughout Mod clubs; having, however, arrived on the scene just a wee bit too late - and in the mid-Sixties, you could be late by ten days, let alone a whole month - they couldn't get rid of the bandwagon-jumping tag. Well, yes, they are jumping on said bandwagon. There's one positive thing I can say, though: at this particular point, Steve Marriott is a far more convincing howler-bellower than Roger Daltrey ever was in his pre-Tommy days. Meaning that if Daltrey's coverage of James Brown always left a funny feeling, Marriott's coverage of Sam Cooke is at the very least convincing. In fact, Steve is so good on this album (and he hadn't yet begun to cash in on the band's Britishness by assuming that phoney cockney accent which can really grate sometimes), that it was the Small Faces' version of Willie Dixon's 'You Need Love', here re-titled 'You Need Loving', and no one else's, that Robert Plant later nicked for 'Whole Lotta Love'. Not that I have any documental proof, but I will trust my intuition on that one. The ecstasy, the tremolo, the 'way way deep down inside', the 'you... need... lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-O-O-OVE!' coda, it all checks out. Funny historical detail - although Dixon did sue Led Zeppelin for copyright violation in 1985, he never did that with the Small Faces, even if the song is also arrogantly credited to 'Marriott/Lane' (yeah right). I don't suppose I need to explain the possible reasons behind this "double standard", do I? Instead, let's just concentrate on more of this album's aspects, nifty as well as schnifty. Like I said, the whole album's one big paradox (aka mess). On one side, you have the really big, really booming, really garage-style thingos that kick you out of your typical 1966 office chair and send you wondering how the hell a bunch of these smiling, clean-cut poster boys could have come up with such devilish sounds. For instance, the instrumental 'Own Up Time', clearly an answer to the Who's 'The Ox', which culminates in some totally whacky feedback experiments from Steve - in 1966, only Jeff Beck used to make such sounds on a regular basis. (Another funny detail is that if you listen very hard, you will discern the rhythmic pattern of the Beatles' 'Taxman' in the song's backbone - granted, it ain't really a unique chord progression, but things like that just make you wonder about the true significance of the artist's subconscious, you know). They aren't always coming out on top of the coconut palm with these things, though. The four-minute rave-up of 'Come On Children', for instance, should have never been exported from the stage show, the one location it obviously belongs on as a good vehicle for audience participation, excitation, illumination, and eventually degeneration. It'd be far more adequate had they really stuck to the example of the Who who never allowed themselves to place numbers like 'Shout And Shimmy' on their LPs, relegating them for obscure B-sides. As it is, they just don't have a rhythm section that interesting to keep you hooked up to your speakers for too long. And then on the other side - you haven't forgotten about the other side, have you, dearie? - on the other side you have a batch of songs that are pure bubblegum! Oh, decorated with feedback-a-plenty and bonus streaks of gruff yelling, yes, but bubblegum nevertheless. About half of them are covers, mostly credited to a guy named Lynch (probably the same one that started executing people without an official reason for the sake of turning their deaths into mysterious movies with titles like Twin Peaks), and featuring really insightful lyrics like 'I asked her where d'you wanna go, sha la la la lee, we went somewhere I don't know, sha la la la lee'. But some are feeble autonomous imitations, like the truly pathetic ballad 'One Night Stand', so dreadfully rigid and formulaic by the standard of the times that you start to wonder just how could these guys miss their songwriting lessons. Been too busy picking the right clothes, probably. Still, at the very least they are competent - unlike, say, the Kinks in 1964 - and they mostly have a good sense of the material. After all, there's nothing wrong with bubblegum pop as long as the "bubble" part doesn't outweigh the "gum" part, and all these songs are catchy and vigorous and... well, the most important thing is that the guys are having fun. They can, for instance, take an inoffensive ditty like 'It's Too Late' (probably the most [ab]used song title ever!) and mask its toothlessness with a spooky bassline and a guitar solo that tips its hat to Dave Davies on 'You Really Got Me' rather than any bubblegum softie plink-plonk guitar player. As far as basic hooks go, I'd single out 'Sorry She's Mine', 'You Better Believe It' and 'What'cha Gonna Do About It' as, uh, highlights, but, to tell the truth, there's really nothing here that'd barely approach "classic" status, apart from the vast historical significance of 'You Need Loving', I guess. Still, in a sorta perverse way of things, this just gotta be the least pretentious album from a major (or soon-to-be-major) Sixties' rock band to have been released in 1966, if only because, being released in 1966, it mostly sounded like it came out of mid-'64. It's also funny to realize that what other bands went through in a matter of four to five years, the Small Faces went through in a matter of two - already on their next album they would firmly sound "in tune" with the epoch, and by the time of the third one, would find themselves among its chief innovators. In mid-'66, though, they were little different from all those other unlucky bands on Nuggets, where you so often read tragic accounts of bands recording one cool single, following it up with an already anachronistic LP, and then disappearing into thin air. Well, the Small Faces never disappeared into thin air, and that's no mean feat. Note - the new CD release adds a bunch of bonus tracks, all of which are alternate versions of these here songs, made public somewhat earlier on a French-only (!) EP. Unsurprisingly, the sound quality is far worse on these variants, BUT they can actually boast additional rawness and gruffness which the polished incarnations on Small Faces have taken a serious nibble out of. Particularly recommended is the 'extended' version of 'Own Up Time', where the proto-'Taxman' riff is even more evident.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11
Psychedelia, blue-eyed soul, hard rock - pretty cool mess for a "cash-in".Best song: RUNAWAY
Track listing: 1) Runaway; 2) My Mind's Eye; 3) Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow; 4) That Man; 5) My Way Of Giving; 6) Hey Girl; 7) (Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me; 8) Take This Hurt Off Me; 9) All Or Nothing; 10) Baby Don't You Do It; 11) Plum Nellie; 12) Sha La La La Lee; 13) You've Really Got A Hold On Me; 14) What'cha Gonna Do About It; [BONUS TRACKS:] 15) My Mind's Eye; 16) Hey Girl; 17) Take This Hurt Off Me; 18) Baby Don't You Do It; 19) What'cha Gonna Do About It.
The story gets real twisted here. (Well, the story always gets twisted for classic era Brit invasion bands at some point or other). In late '66, Decca, the band's record label, rushed out 'My Mind's Eye' as the band's new single for the Christmas market, despite the song not even having been finished and existing in rough demo fashion. At that time, my dear Joel, people still occasionally nurtured the idea that "artistic integrity" was somehow compatible with recording on a major label - which is why the Small Faces were naturally pissed off at the fact, to the extent of rupturing their relations with the company and switching to Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label.This, however, could not prevent Decca from fucking with their artistic integrity one last time and releasing this album, a predictably rag-taggy collection of whatever came along - singles, leftover demos, everything the band forgot to carry out of the studio's closets, even a couple songs repeated from the last record. In short, something like Flowers for the Rolling Stones. It is supposedly considered not very good taste among serious Small Faces fans to acknowledge the existence of this thing, much less profess any love for it. But since I've never been all that serious about anything, I might as well confess to digging the results anyway - and, forgetting all about the backstory, admit that this is a major improvement over the debut in every possible way. I must say that I was a little bit taken aback upon hearing the ludicrous "Pavarotti-like" vocal introduction to the band's cover of Del Shannon's 'Runaway' - for a minute out there I was afraid that Marriott was either going to go the nauseating Tom Jones route or, if this was going to be parodic, the Bonzo Dog Band route. Fortunately, no ifs, buts, and woulds; once the five seconds of the stupid intro are over, we're treated to one of the finest white R'n'B performances of the year, if not the decade. It's not like a lot of people share my opinion on this, but I insist nevertheless upon brainwashing you into thinking that Marriott's vocal performance on here is really really something. It's powerful - not easy to believe this kind of manly voice actually emanates from a skinny Brit youngling - and yet also vulnerable, far from the mechanic perfection of people who seem to think that hitting all the right notes is the one and only key to success. It's cocky, to a certain measure, but never reaches stultifyingly arrogant. And it almost certainly served - if not this particular delivery, then Marriott's style in general - as a key inspiration for all the 70s decadent crooners, from Bowie to Bryan Ferry. And besides, there's a terrific minimalistic guitar/organ break in the middle, punching up the desperation level. Cool! No other covers on the album actually come close ('You've Really Got A Hold On Me' is almost a priori zapped by the Beatles factor for me; same with 'Baby Don't You Do It' and the Who factor), but the good news is, most of the tunes are originals, and the better news is, many of these are really originals, showing that the Small Faces had finally reached that stage when putting your name in the credits list signifies more than taking somebody else's melody and writing new lyrics for it. The already mentioned 'My Mind's Eye' is one of these "true" originals, and despite still owing some elements to the Beatles (the mid-section is pretty similar to 'Ticket To Ride', don't you think?), it boasts some catchiness of its own, and shows that the boys are quite ready to swerve into psycho-pop mode exactly the way the new year of 1967 requires everybody to do. That swerve becomes fully noticeable with the double punch of 'Yesterday, Today, And Tomorrow' and 'That Man', both of them almost the same song, probably written under the effects of the same substance that aided the Beatles with 'Tomorrow Never Knows'. Slow, multi-layered, with echoey, trippy vocals, occasionally rising to stoned falsetto levels, with mystical organs and wobbly guitars coming out of nowhere - the only difference is that the first song leans towards "astral" territory with its sci-fi organ tone, while the second one is closer to Injaland, as the guitarists take pains to learn new droning raga-ish techniques. But in both cases there's vocal hooks a-plenty, because, after all, they were a pop band, not the Velvet Underground, right? However, trends and fashions are one thing, and cordial passions are another - at heart, the Small Faces are still "rock'n'rolling soulsters", as evidenced by the album's most 'respectable' song, 'All Or Nothing'. You can never tell whether it's pop, rock, or soul, but the best stuff defies categorization, and this is some of it. Three minutes of hooks, tension, and power, and they even have time to quiet down a little bit and then burst back into the anthemic chorus. Of course, once again, the song wouldn't be anywhere near as interesting without Marriott's screaming; that's the one thing that pushes it over the edge, into a realm that few, if any, British bands were ready to explore in 1967. For some reason, I've always considered their instrumental 'Plum Nellie' sort of an indirect reply to the Who's 'The Ox'. 'The Ox', unlike so many instrumental compositions of the period, was never intended to merely fill up empty space - it was there to illustrate the very idea of the collective power of the Who as a musical entity, highlighting the functions of every instrument-playing member and their perfect gelling together. Same with 'Plum Nellie': technically speaking, it's just a piece of generic vocalless 12-bar blues, but it's quite obvious that the idea behind it was to play as ferociously as possible, and I'm sure I'm not the only one suspecting that on that track, Steve, Ian, Ronnie, and Kenny are giving it absolutely all they got. Which does make them one of the heaviest rocking bands of the pre-Hendrix epoch, although, I must say, they aren't still rocking anywhere near as tough as the Beck-era Yardbirds or the Who themselves. They do have an advantage, though, with Ian, whose grim, hoarse organ tones really push up the sound and make them look bigger than they really are. Most of the other songs are relatively slight (I'll be briefly touching upon 'Have You Ever Seen Me' in the next review), but at the very least, they're always enjoyable and memorable. I certainly could do without the silly reduplication of 'Sha La La La Lee', but elsewhere, even the bubblegummy stuff is easier to swallow, with originals like 'Hey Girl' and covers like 'Take This Hurt Off Me' far more complex and far less intelligence-defying than some of their unlucky past experiences. In short, the moral is: not only is it unnecessary for good records to be conceptual, it isn't even necessary for them to be concocted by the artists themselves. Gimme a "lame cash-in" like this one over a completely independent, completely "integrated" original Manfred Mann record any time of the millennium. Besides, I'm so not complaining when it actually comes as part of a "twofer" CD with the band's Immediate label debut attached - the greatest possible Small Faces experience or what? There's also a bunch of bonus tracks here, arranged very similarly to the Small Faces bonuses - alternate versions off French EPs and BBC recordings; nothing eye-opening, as expected, and generally with far worse sound quality, but it gives one a nice chance to hear 'My Mind's Eye' twice without having to reprogram the CD player. Yeah yeah, I know you've been having that fetish too. I concur. No need to thank me for telling you.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12
Maybe the coolest thing about this record is how it packs 14 songs into 29 minutes - in 1967, too!Best song: GREEN CIRCLES
Track listing: 1) (Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me; 2) Something I Want To Tell You; 3) Feeling Lonely; 4) Happy Boys Happy; 5) Things Are Going To Get Better; 6) My Way Of Giving; 7) Green Circles; 8) Become Like You; 9) Get Yourself Together; 10) All Our Yesterdays; 11) Talk To You; 12) Show Me The Way; 13) Up The Wooden Hills To Bedfordshire; 14) Eddie's Dreaming.
Well, this is it. The Holy Grail of Sixties' pop for those who got fed up with occupying the Grail niche with boring crap like Sgt Pepper, Flowers, or Strange Days. The record that ensured the Small Faces' legacy would remain a legacy instead of an archaeological curiosity. And lo! this is the original British artifact here. The American version, in order to avoid being confused with the band's Decca debut, was retitled There Are But Four Small Faces, contained 12 songs instead of 14, and, as usual, contained all the wrong ones, dusting a handful of album tracks off the table in favour of "well known" singles of the period. Not that the singles were bad or anything - but since there are no bad tracks on the original album, there's no way they could clean it up without bloodshed.Almost everything, from top to bottom, is credited to the Marriott/Lane songwriting team, and the two do a good job. Steve provides the obligatory R'n'B-ish foundation, the grit and the sweat; Ronnie digs into his little storehouse of traditional British musical forms; and both, along with a little help from the producers (Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane), throw in some psychedelic effects, lyrics, and moods so that no one would mistake them for helpless losers like the Kinks. Curiously, psychedelia doesn't really kick in until track 7; the first six songs trick you into thinking that here's one more band that managed to keep it straight and sound without contacting the "green circles" virus... ...until, of course, you arrive at 'Green Circles' themselves. Now of course you shouldn't think Syd Barrett, but if you think Disraeli Gears, i.e. 'psych-lite', you won't be too far off the mark. The echoes; the stoned, trippy vocal intonations; the mantraic 'green circles, green circles, green circles' chant in the mid-section; and, most of all, the lyrics ('and with the rain a stranger came' - you bet your life this one is not going to be about the delights of promiscuous sex), this is 100% indicative of the boys smoking some of it. It is amusing that, despite having built up their reputation as a "tough" bunch, the Small Faces actually ended up with some of the sweetest, tenderest psychedelia of 1967; neither the Rolling Stones nor the Who, not to mention Pink Floyd and other bands for whom psychedelia was a way of life rather than a temporary fad, could be so inoffensive when it came to transplanting your subconscious onto vinyl. Supposedly it's Ronnie who's to blame, one of the sweetest guys ever (musically, I mean). On the other hand, the only other psychedelic anthem on the album, 'Up The Wooden Hills To Bedfordshire', is credited to Ian McLagan. It is somewhat tougher, well, at least, it's a bit faster and has a more pronounced rhythm section, but it's still colourful optimistic psychedelia with even less "danger" in the music than could be found on Disraeli Gears. In the end, though, it's the song's stern decisiveness that wins me over; somehow, when I hear that 'leave your body behind!' line, I get this stupid 'yes sir, whatever you say sir' reflex every time. Maybe it's that organ. Elsewhere, psychedelic influences are felt only occasionally, and are always overshadowed by R'n'B and folk-pop elements. Two of the tracks have been transplanted from From The Beginning and since they were among the most successful R'n'B exploitations on that album, they feel right at home here as well, particularly '(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me', which opens the record on a blast of Marriott histrionics and builds up to a great climax (I think McLagan hauls out the Mellotron eventually, doesn't he?). The acoustic guitar riff, with exactly as many chords as there are syllables in the song title (parentheses omitted), is particularly memorable and invigorating; you don't often get to see the acoustic strummed with so much power, unless you're Keith Richards doing 'Street Fighting Man' and I know for goddamn certain that you are not. Marriott's singing completely dominates stuff like 'Something I Want To Tell You', with his voice suddenly going off into the area of 'suave' and 'subtle', something rarely heard before from the guy - there are moments when you could almost mistake him for Lou Reed in one of his 'romantic' moods. (Ian McLagan's masterful keyboard riff almost steals his triumph, though). But if you want to hear the man in his rowdy and brawny incarnation, you'll be seriously disappointed. This is an album for sissies. The only halfway "brawny" song is 'Talk To You', which does indeed have a semi-hard rock riff and vocals that are always loud and arrogant, but it doesn't even feel all that well on the record. (The fiendish McLagan tries to dilute the overall effect with lightweight piano tinkling, too!) Not until the beginnings of Humble Pie, in fact, would you get Steve Marriott the tough rhythm-and-blues wailer once again, alive and well. Ronnie even pushes Steve off the vocals on one track, the hilariously announced music hall send-up 'All Our Yesterdays', all nicety, brass interludes, upbeat rhythms and Ronnie's sweet, but tense delivery (well, everybody knows just how much trouble the guy always had with singing). And, keeping his later career in mind, you can all but tell stuff like 'Become Like You', 'Show Me The Way' and 'Feeling Lonely' are essentially Lane creations. With this serious twist in the direction of traditional British musical forms, you sure can tell that, despite all the incessant repetitions of the 'Marriott/Lane' inscription, the two gentlemen wouldn't last long in the neighbourhood of each other. Nevertheless, it was great while it lasted. There are certain problems with the album, though, and they don't always concern the lack of truly original ideas. First, the shortness - 14 songs in 29 minutes may indeed seem like a cool idea, but somehow it just ends up meaning that the record whooshes past you in no time and is soon forgotten where it shouldn't be. Second, while there are no truly bad songs at all, only some of this material really amounts to 'great'. It is very, very lightweight, almost like an average Paul McCartney record, but without McCartney's endless bag of unexpected tricks and only about half of McCartney's endless personal charisma. Third, which is sort of related to both first and second, is that the songs are so short they never get the chance to turn into something truly unforgettable. Most of the time, it's basically one (1) musical idea repeated several (2, 3, 4) times and then abruptly ending in favour of the next song. A typical example is the instrumental 'Happy Boys Happy', which is based on a very cool organ theme... and again based on that very cool organ theme... and still based on that cool organ theme... and now it's over. Well, Kenny does some kick-ass drumming, too. But in a better world, I'd have somebody get them a ravaging guitar solo on top of that, or maybe a funky brass section, or at least some gospelish vocal harmonies. It's more like a demo of whatever should be the real thing. Perhaps if I were reviewing the American version of the album, with 'Itchycoo Park' and 'Here Come The Nice' and 'Tin Soldier' on it, it would have gotten a 13... then again, maybe not, because they are not that much greater than the best stuff on the non-tampered-with version. Or maybe one of those special CD remasters that's got both versions on it would have gotten a 13. Not that it really matters. Well, maybe it does matter a bit in that, despite the 1967 factor, Small Faces ends up... not being very conceptual. It still sounds like a bunch of completely disconnected pop tunes thrown together without much regard for sequencing (although 'Eddie's Dreaming', with its carnivalesque atmosphere, works well as the album closer, I'll admit that) - further proof that, want it or not, Marriott and Co. were a bit uptight when it came to catching up with the times. Of course, they would inevitably try to correct that with their next release, but by that time, they'd already have much, much more to catch up with, so much, in fact, that they just couldn't cope with it.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11
Mod-psyche at its most wreckless, this sure requires much more than three listens.Best song: LAZY SUNDAY or RENE
Track listing: 1) Ogden's Nut Gone Flake; 2) Afterglow Of Your Love; 3) Long Agos And Worlds Apart; 4) Rene; 5) Song Of A Baker; 6) Lazy Sunday; 7) Happiness Stan; 8) Rollin' Over; 9) The Hungry Intruder; 10) The Journey; 11) Mad John; 12) Happy Days Toy Town.
A tough, but rewarding album, a very tough listening experience but a fascinating one at that. As " relative newcomers", The Small Faces did everything a year later than should be expected, and thus Ogden's Nut Gone Flake was released in the summer of 1968 instead of summer of 1967 where it rightly belongs. On the other hand, it is twisted and convoluted to such an extent that it belongs in the same boat with S. F. Sorrow and Tommy rather than Sgt Pepper, so perhaps we could see that as catching up instead of getting in behind.In any kind, this is a cult favourite and a deserved one at that. The songwriting forces of Marriott and Lane are at their absurdist peak, and no exact 'meaning' can be derived either of the album's ridiculous concept or of the performing styles of Marriott. But let's not put the cart before the horse anyway: Ogden's Nut is essentially a two-part record, with a bunch of incoherent singles recorded on Side A and a weird nonsensical musical/spoken tale of a guy called Happiness Stan on Side B. The first side is by far the stronger one, as the second one is far too cluttered - and my main concern with it isn't even the spoken Cockney gibberish of Professor Stanley Unwin that introduces every track and sometimes goes on for far longer than could be expected, but the fact that the songs aren't really worked on too well. Yet it's hardly as hopeless as the idea of the European Union, and repeated listenings do help. But let's go over the first side first. Naturally, since this is a psycho album, the Small Faces pile everything on top of it - the music is just as diverse, colourful and variegated as the album cover. Of course, since the area they were most specialized in was Britpop, it's the two terrific Britpop anthems that stand out the most. 'Rene', a mid-tempo pop-rocker that tells the sour tale of a gal that hangs around the docks welcoming sailors from Kuala Lumpur, is sung by Marriott in a delicious Cockney tone and features one of the most catchy and infectious choruses this side of Ray Davies - all the eccentricity of a progressive English gentleman multiplied by an aggressive rock approach is at the stake. It doesn't even lose me when midway through it becomes little else than a repetitive psychedelic jam, because it doesn't go on for as long as, say, 'Sing This All Together (See What Happens)', and actually features excellent guitar and organ passages if you really care to listen. 'Lazy Sunday' is perhaps even better, if you manage to get past the fact that this time, Steve really overdoes the cockney thing... heck, I've never walked along the dirtier streets of London, but I daresay if any cockney really started enunciating like Marriott does ('loizee Sundyay afternyoony-aa!..'), he'd be suffering from aphasia or something. Never mind that, the song is beautiful anyway, and the subject matter - the band playing their favourite music loud and disturbing the neighbours - is, of course, classic. That's not the only good side, of course. One needn't omit the fiery soulful groove 'Afterglow Of Your Love'... it has been irking me around a bit nervously for the first time, because the lack of transparent structure has reminded me of Humble Pie's atrocious debut, where the wild energy of Marriott and Frampton didn't stop the songs from sucking because they frankly couldn't be called songs in the first place. But thankfully, 'Afterglow' eventually steps out as a catchier and more solidly written ditty, and McLagan's organ and Kenney Jones' ferocious drumming really make the song. Then there's the totally psychedelic 'Long Agos And Worlds Apart', McLagan's solo contribution to the album which might bug you for the first minute, but then the otherworldly 'watery' organ leads the tune into a clap-along sing-along coda that forms a perfect link from the psycho essence of the song to the harsher 'Rene'. Finally, there's the hard rock anthem 'Song Of A Baker' which I frankly can't remember a note of (but watch out for that 'Wild Thing'-influenced riffage!), and the psychedelic instrumental title track where the band again tests this cute 'watery' effect on the organ with the coolest results. Now the second side is a different matter. I could care less about the story - Happiness Stan looking for the other half of the moon? Wow, groovy! - and while Unwin's 'academic cockney' is hilarious first time around, it does nothing but annoy on second listen. But the songs themselves are pretty interesting, not so much because they're memorable but rather because there's always something that attracts your attention if it can be attracted by anything besides sex with small furry animals, of course. In 'Happiness Stan', for instance, there's this mysterious phased-vocals part that will really 'blow your cool'. 'Rollin' Over' borrows the opening riff from 'Foxey Lady' and the guitar/piano/harmonica interplay is ferocious, not to mention the thunderous bass parts which overshadow everything else. 'The Hungry Intruder' is just a very friendly folksy acoustic interlude. 'Mad John' is a medieval ballad for Chrissake! And 'Happy Days Toy Town' is basically 'Lazy Sunday Part Two', if a bit inferior. I mean, hey, it's probably not a record you'll want to be listening to often. Because in order to do that, you have to have listened to it at least, say, thirty times, to get used to every little nuance and to make the evasive song structures stick in your head, and how can you listen to it thirty times if you don't feel like listening to it that often in the first place? But it's just one of those records that leave an impression of (a) niceness and (b) respectability once you're through with them, and which clearly represent a valid artistic statement. It's... uh... well... ever read Lewis Carroll's 'Hunt For The Snark'? I personally think they're both in the same category: works that can be admired for their goofiness, inventiveness and originality, but which don't really form part of your everyday meal. But if they DO form part of that, you're really special and I'd like to get to know you better, my perverted friend.
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